An empty stage is waiting like a blank slate for a performer and a story at the new Alberta School of Performing Arts. Anticipation is rising for a community that is building back after being 65 percent destroyed by the April 27, 2011 tornado. The Alberta Elementary School facility that was built in 2000 was flattened. The Alberta School of Performing Arts will take its place in 2015.
This school will be the first of its kind in this district. The school board and superintendent used community input to examine the district and saw a need: No other county or private schools in the area have a performing arts-driven curriculum or facility. Because of the singular nature of the program, the elementary school is being built to accommodate a middle school. School board member Marvin Lucas wants to eventually expand the performing arts curriculum to one of the high schools.
The new school has been hard work for Fine Arts Coordinator Jeffrey Schultz and Principal Brenda Parker who attended conferences to learn ways of integrating the performing arts curriculum with traditional subjects. This year the elementary children are being exposed to the new curriculum through music and art classes.
Schultz said the four fine arts fields are dance, theater, music, and art. In fourth and fifth grade students will dive deeper into individual interests like guitar or piano.
“The offerings expand in terms of detail, so that instead of just a broad music now you might actually work on a specific instrument,” Schultz said.
Then sixth through eighth grades will have intensive arts study through collaborations with their classmates in musical theater and other performances.
“We might do a show that involves a chorus with soloists that is backed up by musicians on the instruments playing music that is danced to so that all of those things are working together,” Schultz said.
The performing arts labs boast large inside windows where people can watch without disturbing the class. A 300-seat theater for performances can be accessed for community needs without having to enter the school. The facility encloses two courtyards one of which has a mini ample theater that can be used for learning and performances. The hall of classrooms that split the courtyard doubles as a storm shelter that’s windows can be locked by thick metal doors and concrete in the ceiling. The facility is being funded by insurance and FEMA money as well as the one-cent sales tax.
The building has a way to go before opening in January, but workers are toiling six, sometimes seven-day weeks to complete the facility. Many of the classrooms are in the final stages with wallpaper and bookshelves going up and science labs in place. Bleachers are being installed in the gym this week. A second floor is available if the school ever needs to expand.
“The classrooms are a lot larger than some of the classrooms we’ve had in other schools because you have students working more in project based learning more now than the traditional way of lining up desks in rows,” Lucas said.
Tuscaloosa Magnet School was fortunate enough to have spare room for Albert Elementary students just a week after the storm. While Parker has appreciated the hospitality, the logistics of having Alberta Elementary with Tuscaloosa Elementary and Middle Magnet schools in one building has been challenging.
The school board adopted enrollment guidelines at the Nov. 4 meeting. These guidelines say applications to the new performing arts school will be due in January 2015 and auditions will begin in February. Applications consist of letters of recommendation in addition to submitting a piece of artistic work as in an audio or video recording or an art portfolio. All K through third-grade residents zoned in Alberta will be accepted in the elementary school. Alberta zoned students in grades four and five will attend the school with students from outside the residential zone who wish to apply. Approximately 25 spots are open for both grade levels. Students in grades six through eight will be purely applicants, and all Alberta zoned residents will go to Eastwood Middle School unless they wish to apply. Around 50 spots are available for each middle school grade level.
Lucas said for this to be a true performing arts school there has to be an audition process. Parker said they have already presented and reviewed the purposed guidelines and have not heard any negative feedback. Shultz agreed saying minor changes will be made, but the basic format is in place. The community is open to bringing students from other parts of the city into their school because they want Alberta to thrive.
The elementary school will open in January. The middle school will open in August.
Parker is emotional about moving into the new building. The milestone is a momentous occasion for the school family after being displaced for two and a half years.
“Having lost our school in the tornado, there will be a lot of joy and celebration to get to move back to the original site and get to have a home school again,” Parker said.
While the tornado left the Alberta community completely devastated, the opportunities that have come from it are encouraging to Tuscaloosa.
“In an odd sort of way the tornado has given us an opportunity to expand learning beyond our dreams,” Parker said.

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